How to make perfect pasta

17:00, Aug 27 2012
Pasta Roberto Giorgioni
A touch of Italy: Roberto Giorgioni makes his pasta with fresh ingredients, for a greater nutritional value.

As a child growing up in Rome, Roberto Giorgioni learned how to make pasta at his grandmother's knee, mixing fresh eggs and flour into an elastic dough that was transformed by the flick of a rolling pin.

He's carried those lessons with him for decades, but these days he's become much fussier about the end result. Giorgioni now makes around 40kg of artisan pasta a week for a growing band of Wellington eateries and individual customers, but he still agonises over every batch.

''I experiment, I taste - if it's no good, it goes in the rubbish,'' he shrugs.

Whether it's fine skeins of spaghetti, violently crimson beetroot casarecce or delicate pillows of ravioli, every piece is the work of an artist. Nonna Bella would be proud, even if her grandson has had to tweak her methods a bit.

''I learned a lot from my grandmother when I was a child, but doing it at home with a rolling pin is very different to making it with a machine,'' he says.

Giorgioni says he ''always wanted to make something'' and - as a food-loving Italian - it was always going to be food-related. Now, two years after investing his life savings in a custom-made pasta machine, appetite for his fresh pasta is growing.

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Bongusto pasta is served at a handful of Wellington restaurants, including Boulcott Street Bistro, Cafe Polo and Osteria del Toro.

While Giorgioni is grateful for their support, he's also thrilled that several pubs around town, such as the Speights Ale House in Thorndon and the Hop Garden in Mt Victoria, are also using his product.

''That makes me very happy, because pubs are not Italian restaurants, but these chefs are in the business of bringing up the standards of the cooking.''

Giorgioni may be a relative newcomer to the New Zealand hospitality scene but he has more than 20 years' experience in the industry in his native Rome, not to mention hundreds of years worth of Italian culinary history to draw upon.

After spending his teenage years in Chile, where his family moved to run a dairy farm, Giorgioni returned to Rome to set up a pizzeria with his brother. Their shop, which sold 30 different kinds of pizza a taglio (''by the slice'') regularly featured on the Gambero Rosso guide to Italy's best pizza.

The shop still exists, but Giorgioni came to New Zealand in 1996. His Kiwi ex-wife didn't want to live in Rome any more, he shrugs, ''and so we came here''. He struggled to find work in the Wairarapa, but moving to Wellington in 2002 made it easier to pick up work in the restaurant trade.

Pizza remains his ''passion'' but he was initially reluctant to make it here, fearing New Zealand palates wouldn't appreciate thin, Roman-style pizzas with minimal toppings.

''I didn't think New Zealand was ready for it, but I was wrong.''

Pizza now flies out the door at Merkato Fresh in Miramar, where customers can peer through a large glass window to watch Giorgioni and fellow Italian chef Gabriele Cagnetta perfect their latest project, vegetable-enriched pasta using fresh local vegetable purees. Giorgioni opened the shop with French chef Laurent Loudeac last December.

While pizza was an easy sell, Giorgioni admits it is a big task convincing a nation used to buying cheap dried pasta from the supermarket of the benefits of the real deal.

''Dried pasta is dried pasta, but fresh, really authentic pasta has a completely different nutritional value.

''I use fresh eggs, fresh vegetables; the big commercial pasta is made with egg powder and carotene or other additives.

''You need to be patient. Give people good food and they will begin to understand it.'

PERFECT PASTA

Roberto Giorgioni shares some tips on how to cook perfect pasta at home:

"First you need plenty of water. Bring it to the boil, then put in a handful of rock salt, then drop in the pasta. Stirring it is OK, but don't use oil. You don't need oil.

''Cook until it is al dente - our fresh pasta takes about three minutes, but it depends on the variety. Then you drain it, but keep a little bit of the cooking water to the side, just in case you need it to loosen the sauce. Then you tip it into a big bowl, pour the sauce on top and mix it very well. Don't just put the pasta on the plate with the sauce on top; it will stick together.

''If you are in a big hurry, you can cook the pasta until al dente, and while it is cooking melt some butter and grate some parmigiano. Then drain the pasta, mix it with the butter and put plenty of parmigiano and black pepper on top. It takes maybe five minutes ... People get all worried about butter but it's good fat and good for you.''

The Dominion Post